Chapter 6 - The Unpleasant Business

"All I'm saying, Mrs. Klinger, is that me and my Harold were quite the tolerators when you and your Saudi Arabian husband moved in. Despite the fact that Maxwell has a - shall we say - checkered past? We welcomed him in, and even yourself, a person from Gookea-oh, ho,ho- I mean Korea. That's just my Harold talking. But he's a tolerator, too! We've even discussed, in passing, letting your half-Gookean children play with ours. Of course, we'll have to wait till they're past the age of impression! Not merely for the obvious reasons, though. No, I'm afraid, this goes far deeper. Your own children don't wish to be near you. I saw something like this coming, mind you, some months back. But I decided to be gracious".

Keiko couldn't believe what she was hearing. Mrs. Krause, the neighbor who watched the children for Soon-Lee and Max Klinger, was lecturing her on the care of her family. If it was Keiko's family, she'd have grabbed Worf's bat'leth and sent this woman to be with the Prophets. As it stood, though, Max and his children were not her family. Well, not her immediate family. Just her ancestors. "Mrs. Krause, may I ask just what you meant by checkered? My---Max works very hard, and he doesn't drink or cheat on me." Right now, though, Keiko almost wished Max would cheat on Soon-Lee. As long as Max believed Keiko to be his wife, those hands of his were a menace. A nice menace, to be certain. But one that needed some kind of release that was not related to him.

Heidi Krause looked stunned, as though she had never been challenged before. Keiko correctly reasoned that, either through intimidation or politeness or both, that she had never had been. Not by Soon-Lee, anyway.

"You lose that uppity tongue, girl! Why, I helped you when the other neighbors wouldn't even lend you a sponge to wipe off that awful paint those young hoodlums left! Mind you, it's a sponge I've YET to see back!"

Now it was Keiko's turn to be stunned. Since being stuck in Soon-Lee Klinger's place, here in River Bend, Missouri, actually 1956-she'd been wrong, the first time, she'd encountered a lot of odd things. But race hatred this overt was something out of Julian's Spy Holovid "The Only Color Is Blood-Red". Miles had played the villain. Trying to come up with a response while at the same time trying to think of anything else, she remembered two nights back to an argument with Max.

"Are you sure you want to see a flick about "Gojira"? Remember, honey, me and the gang were there for the real thing! What dopes we were to hold a reunion in Tokyo!" Max smiled, though. "But I sure am glad we could help all those people. Boy, it was a nuthouse-and I should know!" Keiko shifted in her seat, not responding to Max's humor. She had agreed to this, reluctantly. But a movie house was a public place. What could happen there? "Max, it's just that I haven't seen Gojira in a!" She almost slipped there, badly. The dramatization of Reporter Stephen Martin's accounts of doomed Tokyo, 1954, was brand new in 1956.

Before the movie, there was a cartoon short. As the movie itself played, she relaxed, as she felt Miles put his arm around her. She felt playful as Miles put his hand on her right breast. She felt disgusted with herself as she remembered that Miles was in the 24th century, probably being utterly faithful to her while she entertained these loathsome thoughts. She got up and walked out during the closing cartoon, about an animated rabbit. On the street, Max confronted her.

"All's I'm sayin' is, it's a sorry state of affairs in this country when a man can't get to 2nd with his own wife!" People were hearing them, but neither of them cared right now. Keiko shouted, "Getting to 2nd is fine, but you tried to steal the base!" Klinger just shook his head. "Well, maybe I should've just tried for 3rd! Because it seems to me like somebody's already stolen home! No wait, Soon-Lee! No way I meant that! It's just-I can take no as an answer for a while, but you won't even let me touch you! What am I supposed to think?" Keiko was a bit calmer, now, but not by much. "Maybe, Max, you should think that I have a pulled hamstring, and can't pitch right now-and leave it at that!" The rain was coming down, but Max's view of things was starting to clear up.

"Your accent, honey! Your sweet, wonderful voice. What happened to it? And since when do you know so much about baseball? I've never heard you get it so right-it's attractive!" Keiko doubted Max found anything about her unattractive, at this point. Not thinking, she merely said, "I've been working on my diction. And I learned all about baseball from Benjamin". Before she could retract those words, Max exploded, "So that's IT! Hawkeye Pierce strikes again! Why, I oughta...Waitaminute, it couldn't be him. He's in Ottumwa, helping Radar get un-flooded. All the roads are out! You see what you got me doin'! Ready to accuse my friend of moving in on you! Lady, take it from a nut. You are N*U*T*S!" Max stalked off, feeling stupid, angry, and pretty much as he had since his wife unknowingly vanished. He regretted his words, but Keiko, once again, didn't blame him. To an empty street, she said, "Would it help any if I said that the Benjamin I'm referring to hasn't even been born yet?".

"I mean, we allowed people such as yourself to come into River Bend, and you pay me back by..." Keiko was amazed. Heidi Krause hadn't stopped talking during her entire flashback. She remembered the words of the cartoon's rabbit :

"Gee, an old fashoned rabbit trap. My grandfather told me about these tings, but I never thought I'd see one!"

Old-fashioned hatred, just like Grandma Soon-Lee used to take. But Keiko was not her shy, soft-spoken ancestor. Heidi Krause now found this out. "I think I don't like your tone of voice, Mrs. Klinger, and furthermore..." Keiko's boiling point had been reached.

"SHUT UP, Mrs. Krause. First off, you remind me of a stuck-up witch named Kai Winn. Nerys doesn't take it from her, and I am not taking it from you! Secondly, my husband, Max Klinger, is Lebanese! Thirdly, I am Korean, not Gookean -yes, that's just your Harold- and I frankly don't know if I want my children to play with yours! Oh, and lastly, Mrs. Krause, if you don't think you like my tone of voice...THEN I AM DAMN CERTAIN THAT I DO NOT LIKE THE TONE OF YOURS!" Applause was then heard. Standing in the door were Harold Krause and Max Klinger.

Harold clapped loudest. "Good going, Mrs. Klinger. Heidi, the way you've been treating this poor girl, it's a wonder you didn't catch this months ago!" Heidi Krause stormed out. Her husband followed, but not before saying, "Sorry, Max, Soon-Lee. Heh. "Gookean". This from a woman who wants to outlaw all wooden shoe references in our Dutch-American Guild Meetings. She says it perpetuates a stereotype." The kindly, but somewhat put-upon man then left to face some familiar music.

Max looked at Keiko with appreciative eyes. Such strength, he thought, when even Mr. Krause was afraid of Mrs. Krause.

"Soon-Lee, ya know, you've been catching way too much of that kinda predjudiced guff since I married you. I think that's what's eating you."

Keiko smiled, but not too much. She didn't want to hurt this dear man by making him think that now was the time to make his move. Klinger was making a move, but not that one.

"Honey, come on down to Pershing with me. Mrs. Potter's making a picnic lunch! It'll be great, and you'll have her and the Colonel to play chaperone--if you want."

A picnic had an undeniable appeal. The day was bright, sunny, and Max was at least trying to understand. Plus, she could apologize to Father Mulcahy - if he believed her or not.

"I'll go, Max. But maybe, if you're good, maybe it'll be you who needs a chaperone's protection!"

Keiko was, of course, lying about the possibility of intimacy, to spare Max's feelings. Problem was, Max was also lying about the picnic's true purpose.

Earlier that morning, after their arrival at Pershing General, Max and Colonel Potter had a long, hard discussion about the disposition of the woman they believed to be Soon-Lee.

"Colonel, there's no way I'm sending the woman I love into the bughouse. In my family, the husband wears the straightjacket!"

Sherman T. Potter had known that broaching this subject with Max Klinger wouldn't be easy. Nothing had been easy for awhile. After the dismissal of the previous two Pershing General Administrators, Potter himself was now in charge. He cleaned house. Alma Cox cried, Wally Wainwright threatened lawsuit, and Dr. Dudko had a nervous breakdown. The Colonel put people he knew and could trust in charge of everything. Nurses from Korea, field Surgeons from WW2, and former company clerks like Sparky, who did his work and kept to himself. Fact is, Potter'd only seen him once since he arrived. But one thing that had been easier was dealing with the new and improved Max Klinger.

The lad suddenly was as sharp as Hawkeye, as quick as Margaret, as self-assured as Winchester, and had a memory like a steel trap. He was the star of the softball team, instead of just being an enthusiastic amateur. The files were well-kept and proper. Klinger credited it all to something Dorrie Taylor, the new staff psychologist, had done. Potter incorrectly thought it was a breakthrough in the science of the human mind. Little Maxine, born after the change in her dad, was the brightest infant on two legs. It was a breakthrough, all right, but not to do directly with the human mind. In 50 years time, the breakthrough Dorrie Taylor treated Max Klinger with would bring the Earth to the brink of annihilation. She might find this acceptable. But to Potter, she was simply a godsend. He'd even asked her to treat a young man Potter had encountered during the war. No, Dr. Taylor could do no harm in the eyes of her new administrator. She and Potter now felt the need to convince Soon-Lee and Max of the same thing.

"Be reasonable, lad! Soon-Lee is not herself! You told me that even she and the children are apart from one another. Now, if that's not a sign of real trouble, I don't deserve to wear this bird! All I'm saying is, let her rest up a mite! It can only do her good, Max! We'll set up her own little suite in the psych-ward. She can rest up without feeling the pressure to perform. Worked wonders for Mildred. Course', heh, she stayed with her cousin....But the point is, it helped. Soon-Lee just needs a bit more. Example : Max, what is your son's name?"

"Colonel...." Klinger resisted, but Potter just smiled. "Just humor the old bird. Now, Soldier, his name?"

Klinger gave in : "To the public, he is Walter Sherman Klinger. On the records, he is Cy Young Klinger. Soon-Lee thought it was the name of a Korean baseball player."

Dorrie Taylor, in the office with them, had been quiet until then. "And you don't consider that extremely odd?"

Max half-grinned. "Nah, I just consider that extremely Soon-Lee. I think it's part of why I love her."

Taylor had already anticipated every last block Klinger would put up. "If you love her, then help her. As I helped you."

Potter stopped, at this. "Now, hold up, Dorrie. What's good for the Max may not be good for the lady. Just hold off before we go too much into that trainyard."

Doctor Taylor promised to do as Potter asked. She would decide later on whether or not to keep her word.

Max was still not buying. "Guys, I love Soon-Lee, but...I dunno...I'd just as soon let this pass. Let her come around on her own."

Potter and Taylor looked back to one another. Potter spoke first. "She's already come around, son. And it's bad."

As a thunderstruck Max listened, Dorrie Taylor explained. "She came to me this morning, Max. Quite upset-and quite out of her mind." Before Klinger could object, she spoke further. "Outside of the patient-client privelege, she confided in me her belief that she is not Soon-Lee Klinger. She thinks she is a space heroine named Keiko O'Brien of the 24th century."

Father Mulcahy was missing, for some reason, and would not be able to find out that Dorrie Taylor had listening devices in the chapel. She'd have Soon-Lee confessing by that time, and ready for the treatment. With both her and Max having been readied, the experiment would continue apace, with a child that would make Maxine seem like an awkward half-wit. Floored, just as Potter was, Max agreed to sign Soon-Lee in.

As Keiko was dragged into the mysteriously empty ward, kicking and screaming, she saw Dr. Taylor for the first time. She said only three words before being heavily sedated : "Doctor Pulaski? Here?"

Outside the ward, Max was crying. Keiko hadn't been shy, relating her opinion of the situation. He was trying to figure out what to tell the kids. Ironically, to the kids, their mother had been missing for over a week. Colonel Potter came to console him.

"Son, if I tell you that you did what you had to, would it help at all?"

Klinger's face showed that it would not.

"Colonel, all that stuff about time-travel. Not only is it lulu, but Doctor Einstein said it couldn't happen. Course', these other fellas said it's kinda like a roll of the dice, and there's infinite sides to the die....ah, I gotta read up more. Advanced Physics still gives me a headache."

Potter was once again amazed by the increase in his former clerk's intellect. "What exactly did Dorrie do to you again?"

Klinger thought about it for a moment-just to make things look good. Dorrie had warned him not to make other people look or feel bad about this.

"She called it - 'Genetic Acceleration.' It changed me. The Doc says pretty soon it could change the world!"

Somewhere in a formless void beyond time, Father Francis Mulcahy was being asked a timeless question by the Prophets Of Bajor.

"Why does your God not intervene more often, and more visibly, on behalf of those who follow and believe in him?"

The question itself was inherently unsettling. To hear it from the mouth of Hawkeye Pierce was almost as much so.

The answer came from both his own faith and the irreverent jocularity of the comrades he now saw before him in spirit.

"He may have promised no more Floods. He may have promised to look over those who hold to his Ten Commandments. He may have promised a Messiah and delivered unto us his only begotten Son. He may have promised that Son's return in Glory. But nowhere did he ever promise that life was going to be easy."

The answer did not satisfy Mulcahy. He was certain these Prophets, as he had learned to call them, would not be satsified either. But he had done his best. He had spent all Eternity, it seemed relating his faith to beings who had inspired faith in others. Endless questions went into every nook and cranny of his knowledge. Suddenly, his faith shone so brightly within him, he felt like calling his new brother-in-law to forgive him. But the Prophets were satisfied. And they were not done with him yet.

Margaret spoke. "You have given us much. Great is our debt to you."

Now Frank : "To help the Sisko, however, we must place the Priest back in our debt. Sorry, Father.

BJ rose. "What gift is great enough?"

Winchester : "The One beyond Price. The love for the world."

Doctor Freedman : "Chandler was not the one. But The Priest shall see the true one."

Colonel Blake : "He who fell for love, shall be seen as he rises."

Colonel Potter: "Make sense, man! The Priest must first be shown the Promise, not the Rising!"

Trapper : "It means a great deal to The Priest. The lie told to spare the family. The chocolate for the children. The toboggan cap."

Klinger : "The Priest shall need light to see. The night will be dark, and cold."

Radar: "For The Priest, who has shown us of Bajor, a fleeting candle shall be lit in the skies."

Finally, the Hawkeye image spoke again. "Take this. It shall be required."

Mulcahy winced. "It's quite strong-smelling."

Hawkeye softened and smiled. "It's time to have a little faith in us, Father. The woman speaks true."

With that, the office and the Prophets Of Bajor, wearing the forms of the MASH 4077th, vanished.

Father Mulcahy was walking down a hill. He saw a commotion. He wondered what the Prophets had meant by putting him back in their debt.

"Oh, my, all those people! That bright light! It-it can't be!"

In an instant, a good man's faith was fulfilled. The Prophets Of Bajor had sent him through time, but 1956 years before he left. They had promised to light a candle in the skies, and they had. As Mrs. Mulcahy's little boy fell to his knees, tears streaming, he heard the angels sing. The light from the "candle" shone down upon a simple place. It was a small sleeping area where those who cared for the animals usually slept. But this night, they had opened it up to a woman great with child. Father Mulcahy saw the child very clearly, though his eyes were salty from the tears-tears of joy. The other Mulcahy, the one with the odd, flat features, spoke to him. "What is this place to you? What is it called?" To John Patrick Francis Mulcahy, both the place and what it was to him was summed up in one word : "Bethlehem."

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